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Business & Commercial Law : Estate Planning & Litigation : Bankruptcy

Why families may suspect undue influence has impacted an estate plan

On Behalf of | Nov 30, 2023 | Will Contests

An estate plan provides guidance concerning when families must distribute the property of someone who has recently died. Wills and other testamentary documents can clearly outline which beneficiaries should receive what assets. A testator may also provide instructions ordering the sale of their property so that certain people can receive the proceeds from those sales.

The instructions in an estate plan will be drastically different from person to person. The property they have acquired and the relationships they have with their loved ones will strongly influence the legacy that someone wants to leave when they die. Many people discuss their wishes with family throughout their golden years.

Sometimes, families begin reviewing estate paperwork only to realize that someone’s instructions do not align with what they always discussed with their loved ones. Instead, it may seem like they favored one person above everyone else.

Proving undue influence can be complex

A will could be the product of undue influence if the terms someone included prioritize the wishes of someone other than the testator. Undue influence is the legal term for when a person other than the testator uses their relationship with the testator to affect the estate planning process. Typically, claims of undue influence must involve someone in a position to abuse, coerce or manipulate the testator. Spouses, children and caregivers are frequently in a position to exert undue influence on an estate plan. Additionally, the party accused of undue influence will need to be a beneficiary of the estate.

The strongest case would involve a testator who corrected or drafted their documents while in the care of an individual who became their main beneficiary. The timing of revisions to the estate plan and the terms that someone previously included in their documents can both serve as important evidence to support allegations that someone inappropriately influenced the testator for personal gain.

Provided that the family members or other beneficiaries can show that someone influenced estate planning documents, the probate courts may set aside the documents or refer to older estate planning paperwork as they decide how to distribute someone’s resources. Recognizing issues that may compromise the validity of an estate plan can help people uphold the true wishes of a deceased loved one.